BRONX AFRICAN AMERICAN HISTORY PROJECT
INTERVIEWER: Mark Naison, Noel Wolfe, Dawn Russell
INTERVIEWEE: Nicholas Calderon
SUMMARY BY: Patrick O’Donnell
Keywords: South Bronx, Beekman Houses, Patterson Houses, Crips, Bloods, crack epidemic, gang activity, hip-hop, juvenile imprisonment, New York prison system
Note: This is the first of multiple interviews with Mr. Calderon.
Nicholas Calderon (b. 5/12/1986) is a rapper from the South Bronx. He is also the founder and owner of Take Money Records. He was born in the Taft Houses in East Harlem to a Puerto Rican father and an African-American mother. Because his mother was a crack addict and his father was a heroin addict, he began living with his grandmother at the age of two. He was raised in the Beekman Housing Project in the South Bronx, near St. Mary’s Park. Calderon was raised during the height of the crack epidemic in New York City. He remembers seeing crack addicts and heroin addicts smoking or shooting up practically everywhere in his neighborhood, and he recalls hearing gunshots almost daily in the streets surrounding the Beekman Houses. He witnessed people getting beaten, robbed, and shot. As a result, his grandmother made sure that Nicholas only left the apartment in order to attend school. During this time, different gangs controlled various projects and areas in the Bronx, and the gangs tended to be very territorial. Consequently, it was impossible (or at least highly risky) to walk through Calderon’s neighborhood if you did not live there. In addition, because the Bloods controlled Beekman, it was inadvisable to wear their colors if you were not part of the gang. Calderon’s uncle was a crack dealer, but he did not want his nephew to get involved. Thus, although Nicholas did not get involved in the drug game until later, he was familiar with drug culture from an early age.
Nicholas was a bright child, but he also had a discipline problem. He was very interested in computers and in hip-hop, but he didn’t have the resources to pursue his interest in computers. Instead, he started rapping, and became fairly well-known locally for his rhyming skills. Rapping represented Calderon’s single emotional and intellectual outlet. In school, he was frequently bored with the material in class, and his teachers recommended that he skip a grade twice, but his grandmother didn’t want him to do so. No one recommended that he be sent to Prep for Prep, but they suggested that he go to different elementary schools with more promise and higher graduation rates. In addition, because his neighborhood was so tough, he got into many fights. Calderon says that because he was forced to be tough at such a young age, he became more and more angry. Soon he had joined the Bloods at his high school, which was near the Patterson Houses. He began smoking marijuana heavily, and he began selling weed and crack. He was sent to juvenile detention twice, first for armed robbery and then for assault. His father represented him in court and succeeded in diminishing his son’s sentences considerably.
At some point Nicholas moved back in with his mother, who had gone to rehab and had temporarily overcome her addiction to crack. Yet by this point her son was the one getting involved with the drug culture, and she was unable to discipline him. Of course, since Nicholas had become a dealer and kept money and drugs at his mother’s house, his mother relapsed into her addiction. He also moved in with his father for a time, but their relationship was also strained because of his father’s absence during his childhood. Eventually his father threw him out when Nicholas refused to stop dealing. After going to jail a second time, Nicholas vowed to change his ways. He stopped dealing, began repairing his relationship with his parents, and is now working toward obtaining his G.E.D. He is now 24 years old, and is in charge of his own record company.